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Wow. Lyon is Beautiful. I arrived on Sunday to what could have been a standard April evening in Manchester. Wet, cold and glum. Now I’m sat with strong coffee in front of tall french windows, wide open, breathing in the fresh morning air. It’s warm. Not hot. But so much nicer than England when I left. My host is a friend of my tutor’s wife. A woman called Aisha, also from Conakry, Guinea. She speaks absolutely no English so it is a perfect way to force me to speak French. I am learning slowly, slowly, petite a petit.

I’m using the metro to get around whilst I find my bearings and have been introduced to a friend of a friend through facebook who is going to help me get my phone unlocked and buy a French sim so I can use google maps and borrow Sory’s bike. It’s best that I get used to the roads a bit first I think, I keep looking the wrong way even when I try and look the right way! Everywhere I go I’m armed with my French phrase book, trying to say something new each day. It’s interesting, and entertaining, trying to communicate with such limited vocabulary. Finding ways to make people laugh without words is the best way to conquer the awkward silence!

Sory is incredible. Easily one of the best musicians I’ve ever met if not the best. Watching him play is mesmerising. I’ve had two days of lessons so far and I’ve already learnt so much. Initially I played him a few pieces and he chose to develop what I knew of Guinee Fare. Although it’s not Malinke (it’s a sussou rhtyhm), it’s a beautiful piece and I’m happy to learn more. So far we have corrected the support that I worked out from a video recording and learnt two more along with two solo phrases that can be played as an introduction or a variation. One is particularly challenging but both are equally beautiful.

As I expected, and actually hoped for, my technique was wrong. It’s all in the wrists. I managed to get the message across that I wanted to do exercises that will improve my playing. He made me play two notes of a C major chord, moving up in pairs of notes through the chord on each bar. C and E, E and G, G and C and upwards etc. Whilst doing this he held my arms to my sides forcing me to use my wrists. He kept shaking his wrists at me, demonstrating the floppy movement. The grip is mainly in between the thumb and forefinger with a little bit of the middle and third fingers but these three are just touching for control. Whilst doing this I had to look forward, not down at the keys. Trying to learn the space between the notes by predicting the movement is incredibly difficult. Another exercise was to play arpeggios (broken chords). Starting on C you have to play C with your left hand, E with your right, G with your left and the octave of C with your right. I’ve realised the trick is to move your wrist from side to side to get that leap with speed. I was moving my whole arm! This developed into moving the arpeggios upwards through the scale. I was made to go fast then slow then fast then slow and so on. This is perfect. Exactly what I had hoped for and what has been lacking in the few lessons I have had so far.

Yesterday I said I wanted to concentrate on these exercises this week and so we did for the whole morning. Then after a chat with a friend about something, Sory started to teach me a new piece: Nancolanjan. A gorgeous malinke rhythm with a long free-time introduction. The intro has a long roll and Sory explained how you have to glide across the instrument using a swishing sound and moving his hands from side to side. After learning this and the main accompaniment I used google translate to say how much I loved it and want to learn the whole thing in great detail including the balafon, song, dunduns and djembe. I watched Sory play this piece and asked to learn what he was playing. The left hand plays accompaniment whilst the right plays some melody. I have just about grasped the beginnings of this but it is the most complicated thing I have learnt yet and after a long day (and a sore back) my brain was overloaded and so we stopped. We revisited Guinee Fare and learnt another support. This was simple and on any other day I would have got it in no time but I quickly realised it was time to stop there and I couldn’t handle any more learning. It is going to be a challenge to keep up the pace over such a long period of time with such long days. I have given it some thought and I think the best idea is to learn new material in the morning whilst I can concentrate and then do exercises in the afternoon so I can switch off (in a way) and focus on technique.

I’m surprised at how much I have written without thinking. It shows how much I’m learning! It’s exciting to think what I could achieve if I really try hard whilst I’m here. I need to stay focused, eat well and keep rested. Bon travail!